My Mother: M Leelavathi

[M Leelavathi (1927– ) is one of Malayalam’s most brilliant literary scholars of the earlier generation, whose life reads like a series of struggles against misogynies, old, new, and admixed — and of triumph over all these obstacles. She is perhaps the most awarded woman scholar in Malayalam, having won almost every noteworthy prize for criticism in Malayalam and a Padmasri, almost the only one to have scaled such heights of success. Most importantly, she is perhaps the most striking representative we have of the second generation of Swatantryavaadinis in Kerala. Below are translated excerpts from an essay she wrote about her astoundingly-talented mother, Nangayyamaandal, who was denied higher education but who struggled to provide her accomplished daughter with one. In the present when one hears of how the lack of access alone will drive lakhs of young girls outside education in India, and how no one seems to really care about this, one feels all the more obliged to excavate such stories — in a region where women did secure education, it was not as if they were simply driven into it, like sheep. It was rather an outcome of countless struggles, cutting across caste, religion, and class. Like it may be clear from the account below, or from Ratnamayi Devi’s remembrance of the struggles of three generations of women in her family for education ... Continue reading “My Mother: M Leelavathi”

Marriage or a Job? T Narayani Amma

[From the Proceedings of the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly  16 November 1933, pp 95-100]

Intervention in the debate on Demand for Supplementary Grants — Education.

SRIMATI T NARAYANI AMMA (Nominated) :         Before I begin my observations on the Report of the Education Reforms Committee [the Statham Committee], I wish, Sir, to thank the Government of His Highness the Maha Raja, for the privilege that has been extended to us, the members of this House, to discuss the Report. It is a rare privilege so far as this House is concerned and a healthy move as far as such Reports are concerned. We feel grateful that unlike some other reports that are gathering dust in some of the archives of the Secretariat, the Education Reforms Committee’s Report gets the benefit of a discussion by the non-official members of the legislature, the welcome impression being created that early action is being contemplated by the Government. This is certainly as it ought to be, and the policy adopted by the Government, I am sure, will be immensely appreciated. Continue reading “Marriage or a Job? T Narayani Amma”

The Thirst for an Education in Travancore in the 1930s: Manu S Pillai

[This is an excerpt from Manu S Pillai’s The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, Harper Collins, India, p. 281]

“Scholarships were granted to girls for advanced studies outside the state, but the proliferation of women’s education under Sethu Lakshmi Bayi resulted in demand always surpassing supply of funds. One Janaki Amma wrote a moving letter to the Dewan stating that unless she could find money, she would be forced to return from the Lady Willingdon Medical School in Madras to her village and discontinue her education. The authorities could do little, as ‘there are already two [girls]in the Madras Medical College and two in the Vellore Medical School and all allotments had run out… Yet applications came in, and one eighteen-year-old called V Mary ‘on bended knee’ approached the Dewan to ask for a grant later that  year [1929]. She was a Mukkuva girl from the fishing community, demonstrating that across the board, interest in female education was steadily increasing. Muslims, Ezhavas, Christians, and others applied eagerly and it was telling of the kind of diversity in terms of caste as well as economic background when a typical board recommendation read how a certain application could receive funds ‘similar to the one already granted to Amina Bee Sahiba or Miss N Lakshmi.’


















Our Women: Nidheerikkal Mariam (Mrs I C Chacko)

Translated by J Devika

[This is an earlier version of the translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, published by Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, refer the book]


Nidheerikkal Mariam, later Mrs. I. C. Chacko, (1892-1966) was born in a distinguished Syrian Christian family in Alappuzha, as the daughter of a well-known lawyer, Nidheerikkal Cyriac. She was educated in Thiruvananthapuram, passing the F. A examination from the Maharajah’s College for Women. However, unlike two of her younger sisters Teresa Nidhiry and Anna Nidhiry, who both had careers in education, she did not pursue her studies. At seventeen, she was married off to I.C. Chacko, who was to be known as a brilliant scholar and intellectual in Tiruvitamkoor. She was known to be an outspoken and uncompromising champion of women’s rights. The article below is the speech she made at the women’s meeting held as part of the All-Kerala Catholic Conference at Pala in Tiruvitamkoor in 1924-25. I. C. Chacko’s biographer notes that the speech created a veritable storm within the community, and that she and her husband received threatening letters after that. She is also said to have published a volume of stories titled Sanmargakathakal.

Continue reading “Our Women: Nidheerikkal Mariam (Mrs I C Chacko)”